Chapter Thirteen: The Missing Years
Following Louise's agreement to give her children to her husband, Hawkeye had released them from the hospital. But not wanting his friend to drive back to Boston on so little sleep (or, if he was to be honest, to leave so soon at all), he had suggested that the family come over to the Pierce household for a while, and Trapper had accepted, no more eager to leave Hawkeye than Hawkeye was to see him go. Hawkeye had showed the girls the property boundaries, as well as any likely hazards, and then allowed them to run around in the large backyard. It felt good to hear them laugh. Margaret was napping, taking advantage of the fact that Hawkeye had the baby in her bassinet out on the porch with him and Trapper.
"Tell me Ferret Face didn't stay in command for the rest of the war."
"Oh, no." Hawkeye made a face that clearly told Trapper they were in agreement about how that would have turned out. "It was only about a week after you left. Then they sent a new guy. Frank threw a temper tantrum and ran away from camp."
Trapper leaned in eagerly. "Burns went AWOL?"
"For about a day. Came back before Potter realized he was missing."
"The new CO." He realized that, like Margaret's transformation, he'd gotten so used to Potter that he used the man's name in conversation without realizing Trapper had no idea who Potter was.
"What was he like? Not some regular army hack, I hope."
"Yes - but no." Hawkeye pursed his lips a little. "I mean, technically, yeah, he was Army, enlisted, willing, you name it. But he was a good guy. I mean, we couldn't have gotten away with half the stuff we pulled on Henry, but he also understood that we didn't want to be there and that we weren't just going to act like soldiers. And he really cared about the patients, and about us."
"Wow. An army guy with a heart. Never thought I'd see the day."
"To be honest, niether did I. I wasterrified when I heard our new CO was regular army. That lasted about a day."
"First of all, watching him in surgery. Radar told us he hadn't seen the inside of an OR in two years, and I was sure he was going to blow it. Unfortunately, I failed to remember that the other new guy had never done a meatball surgery session before."
"He choke up?"
"A little. It wasn't that bad, but he was starting to panic. Potter walked right over and started talking him through it, reassuring him he was doing fine and wasn't going to lose him. BJ calmed down and finished the surgery without incident. Then we finished the session and he asked if we knew a place to get a drink. I'd been afraid he was going to make us get rid of the still; he started giving us tips on how to get a better product."
Trapper grinned. "Yeah, he sounds okay. What about the other guy? BJ, did you say? What was he like?"
Hawkeye paused, trying to find a way to answer this. It had been all well and good to think of BJ as just Trapper's replacement when he thought his friend was ignoring him, but knowing the hell he'd actually been through, he didn't want Trapper to think he'd been replaced.
Then he remembered the conversation he'd had with BJ the night before they'd gone home, reassuring BJ that he wasn't constantly comparing him to Trapper. "He was to me what I was to you," he said finally. "I was the older one in that situation, the one he needed to lean on a little until he got his footing. Just like you were for me."
"Good with the girls?"
Hawkeye laughed now, shaking his head. "You kidding me? He slept with one nurse the entire time we were there, and he was torn apart with guilt for days. He'd only been married for a few years and his little family was everything to him. To the point where he once had a near breakdown because his gutters needed to be cleaned out."
"Nope. To be fair, it was hot as hell and we were all a little stressed, but he kept imagining every worst case scenario that could possibly happen."
Trapper shrugged a little, his face suddenly growing serious. "Maybe if I'd cared more, Louise wouldn't have left me. Maybe the little things wouldn't have bothered her so much if I hadn't been sleeping with a new girl every week in Korea."
"She wanted me to forget! I couldn't forget. That's what started most of our fights. If it was just me I wouldn't care, but my babies suffered for it."
"Trap, that's not your fault! Whether or not you cheated on her in Korea, you can't just expect to forget a year of your life. Certainly not a year like that. That's one of the reasons Margaret and I stayed so close." That and the fact that I was in love with her from the night we spent in that abandoned hut but I was too scared to admit it. "We know what it was like for each other out there. No other person in this town gets that. In any case, even if you did have some part in the divorce, she didn't have to go marry a guy who was going to abuse her kids. That's not your fault, Trap."
Trapper nodded and they sat in a comfortable silence for a few minutes until he broke it. "So, tell me that your new CO's not letting you get away with stuff didn't extend to preventing you from pranking Ferret Face."
"As long as no one got hurt, he looked the other way. BJ came up with a really good one once."
Trapper leaned forward eagerly. "Do tell."
"Well, Frank was, you know, being Frank. Digging air raid shelters all over camp. BJ filled one up with water - it was just barely spring, and it was freezing - and then tricked Frank into jumping in. I don't think I'd heard him yell so loud since we set that tent up to collapse on him."
Trapper burst out laughing. "Wish I'd have thought of that. Ah, well. At least someone did."
"Just don't mention the overgrown ferret in front of Margaret unless you want her to go off on you. She despises him now." Privately, Hawkeye suspected that had more to do with Frank providing evidence for the trial against the woman who had hurt him than any offense he had committed against her personally, but as close as they were he wasn't ready to reopen that wound by telling his friend.
"I won't," Trapper promised. "So this BJ was pretty good at pranks?"
"He pulled the mother of all pranks once."
"Oh? Do tell."
"Well, I was having a bad day, and he pulled a really stupid prank on me. Nailing my boot to the floor, I think it was. Anyway, I accused him of not being original. Compared him to you and the pranks we used to pull, I didn't realize until much later that that was a sore spot for him, feeling like I was comparing the two of you as friends, not just pranksters. Anyway, he threw down the gauntlet. Made a bet that he could pull the ultimate prank and prank the entire senior staff in one day, but that anyone he pulled a successful prank on in this streak would have to do a dare. We all agreed. It started with a snake in our third bunkmate's bed, then soap in the Colonel's toothpaste, Mulcahy's food had something in it, the back of Margaret's robe was cut out at, ah, an inopportune place, and the company files blew up."
"Wow." Trapper whistled under his breath. "But he didn't get you, huh?"
Hawkeye blushed a little. "Oh, he got me all right. Turns out the joke was on me the whole time. Everyone else was in on it. So I was walking around paranoid as all hell, didn't get a wink of sleep all night, turned out that was the prank all along."
Trapper laughed out loud. "Now that's beautiful."
"Yeah, served me right too. Never tell a guy like that he's not good enough unless you're ready for him to prove you wrong."
"I'd like to meet this guy."
Hawkeye smiled. He was still pretty sure that any lingering problem BJ had with Trapper would disappear once they actually met each other.